A Detroit-based photographer who was also in the hardcore punk trio Angry Red Planet, Ewolf began documenting the local and regional scenes with his camera. Taking a low-key approach at first, he soon developed a name for himself. Among the bands he documented were the Gories, Detroit Cobras, Laughing Hyenas, Mule, Clone Defects, Piranhas, Dirtbombs, Dirtys, Outrageous Cherry, Bantam Rooster, the Sights, the Go, and Paybacks. Ewolf spoke with Eric Davidson about that whirlwind time and his continuing career in photography.
While nary a band logo-emblazoned tour bus or six-figure recording contract ever rolled out, the trash rock scene in Detroit in the 1990s was as active, interesting, and influential as any of that Alternative Rock era. Well, the White Stripes eventually got huge, but long before that, Detroit’s “slacker” period was packed with busy, punk-sprung garage bands like the Gories and Detroit Cobras, heavy post-cores Laughing Hyenas and Mule, an art-damaged punk brood at the end of the decade (Clone Defects, Piranhas, Dirtbombs), and a few more powerful pops (Outrageous Cherry, Bantam Rooster, Dirtys, the Sights, the Go, Paybacks). As is often the case with blue collar rust belt scenes, most of the musicians couldn’t ditch their day jobs to tour constantly, and major label A&R flew overhead on the way to Seattle or Austin. But indie labels picked ‘em up and put ‘em out, and the town was able to continue its ever-present, explosive musical tradition.
Rust Belt rock photographers often experience the same monetary inability and industry pessimism as the bands they shoot and go about their work in a similar under-the-radar manner. When my band, New Bomb Turks, got into Detroit to record with scene studio documenter, Jim Diamond, in 1999, we were introduced to a super nice, quiet dude named Ewolf who could take some bands pics of us if we wanted. Little did we know Ewolf had been snapping bands since the early ‘80s, and kept on through to the 2000s.
He’s gone on to a respected position at a regional museum, so I figured maybe now he’d be into talking about himself for a minute. We caught up about all the acts he has shot, his time playing in bands himself, and his varied experiences as a POC in an admittedly often monochrome underground rock scene.
PKM: What was the first camera you had?
Ewolf: I remember having a Kodak 126 Instamatic when I was young, the kind that took a cartridge and used those square flash cubes. I think it was a gift from my grandmother. I had no real knowledge of photography then; it was just used to shoot goofy photos of my brother and cousins. I found a camera that belonged to my father before he died. It was a 35mm Kodak Signet 40 rangefinder that took surprisingly good photos.
My friends and I had taken a [photography] class together in high school because it was easy – or so we thought. That teacher turned out to be pretty demanding, and it was good for us to learn from her. I took more classes in college, though I never had any intention of becoming a photographer. For a while, photography was little more than a way to chat up girls. My friend, Gerald, was more advanced, having a 35mm SLR, and he helped me buy my first “real” camera. When I started going to see bands, and with the teacher I had in college, I started to realize that more could be done with this thing…. Gerald was an important influence, not only because he saw things differently with a camera, but he also was interested in doing things – exploring the city, going to shows, traveling, cars, etc. There were still pretty girls to photograph, but there were all these other things, and they were more interesting.
Even then, I didn’t have any serious intention of becoming a photographer. I wanted to go into radio or television production, and had a job answering phones and doing tasks at a local radio station. I also had a job in a one-hour photo lab. I quit both jobs to go on tour with Angry Red Planet, and when I came home, I was driving with my mother when an adjacent car waved at us to pull over. It was one of the customers from the photo lab! He said he was opening his own lab and studio and wanted me to work for him. It was encouraging, though weird, to have someone recognize my ability, something I didn’t see in myself.
PKM: When did you start shooting bands?
Ewolf: I started carrying my camera to shows during high school, if I was old enough or lucky enough to get in. One of the first shows where I remember having my camera, that Signet 40, was when the Police played with XTC at Masonic Temple in 1980. Years later, I found a print of a shot during the Police’s encore, when Andy Partridge of XTC came out with a can of shaving cream and a razor, then lathered up Sting’s face as he was singing, and started giving him a shave. I was a much bigger fan of XTC by then, and I mailed the print to the band at Virgin Record in the UK. I had forgotten I’d done that until the Chalkhills and Children biography on the band came out. I was skimming through it, and there was my photo! It was uncredited, of course, because I didn’t think about those things back then. I had just sent it as an act of fandom, not business. I let the publisher know it was my shot, and they did send me an acknowledgement with a promise that they would give me credit on the second printing, along with a copy autographed by the band. I’m still waiting…
PKM: What was the Detroit music scene like at the time?
Ewolf: Detroit had a few periods that were pretty exciting for music. Most of them didn’t hit the big time, but that doesn’t diminish their impression on me or their impact on the scene in Detroit or elsewhere. The punk scene I was most drawn to was kind of freeform. We were all punks, but you could put together ten bands, and they’d all sound very different. Even bands that didn’t have a lot of skill as musicians could go out and play, and were usually welcomed. Then there were bands who thought they were Rush or some other prog-rock style. No one gave them shit for it, not to their faces anyway.
I was a big fan of Private Angst, which was probably as close to the Minutemen as any Detroit band came, in terms of energy and exploration. The list of bands I liked could be very long. They weren’t always the coolest bands, I just heard something in them that made me hopeful, hopeful for their success, and hopeful for music overall, like, “If more bands did stuff like this, everything might be okay.” Politically, it wasn’t anywhere near as horrible as the climate today, but those were the Reagan years, so there was good reason for us to be pessimistic or angry.
PKM: Speaking of the Reagan years, can you remember any hardcore bands you saw?
Ewolf: Some people will probably find it interesting or contradictory, since I was in Angry Red Planet, that I wasn’t a fan of hardcore. I was aware of some of the bands and some of the shows, but I mostly stayed away, and that was for a variety of reasons. Foremost was the skinhead presence. I don’t blame the bands for that; it wasn’t something that they could necessarily control. Then, I didn’t think it was a very good match for me musically…. I liked the Crucifucks. I’m sorry I only saw them once. On the metal side of the hardcore sound, I thought Ugly But Proud were pretty cool. Nationally, there wasn’t anyone who could touch Bad Brains, and I’m sorry I only saw them once.
The local punk bands played basements, converted storefronts, and parking lots until the bars started to bring them in, and not pay them. Aside from Private Angst, I dug bands like Tom Gemp, Sleep, The Blanks, Vertical Pillows, Hysteric Narcotics, Gangster Fun. I was a fan of Angry Red Planet before I started playing with them.
PKM: How about a quick history of your involvement in Angry Red Planet.
Ewolf: It felt like I did a lot of growing up in a real hurry when I was with ARP. I had played a little with other bands, but most of my experience was in my mother’s basement with my first band, Vicious Dick and the Clap. In no time, I was in the studio recording the band’s second EP, which Touch & Go released. Not long after that, we recorded the Little Pigs, Little Pigs LP and went on tour.
We went out for a month across the U.S., six people – four in the band, two friends – crammed in a short-bed Dodge van! I remember us sleeping overnight behind a building in some town in New Mexico because it was the only place we could find to pull over. When we woke up, it was raining inside the van. The outside temperature dropped, which made our body heat condense on the ceiling and drip on us! It sucked, yet it was great being out there. One of those friends was David Viecelli, by the way. He was our tour manager. I think he went on to do something bigger with that line of experience. (Today, David Viecelli heads up the large, long-running booking agency, Billions.
Politically, it wasn’t anywhere near as horrible as the climate today, but those were the Reagan years, so there was good reason for us to be pessimistic or angry.
After the album was released, we went out across the U.S. for two months. I had never been away from home in that way. Seeing mountains, oceans, deserts, and the multitude of stars for the first time was incredible. I never felt as though we were rock stars in any sense, though when we toured Europe at the end of 1988, that was as close as we had come. People were very generous. They were excited to talk to us, they fed us, and they usually offered a place to sleep, and it all felt great, with us being so far from home. We played with some wonderful bands, Stengte Dører (from Norway) being my favorite.
PKM: So back to the Midwest, what were the good Detroit clubs for shows?
Ewolf: I shot some shows at Bookie’s. St. Andrew’s Hall had a good stage and better lighting. Some places, like the Hungry Brain, were virtually impossible to shoot in because the lighting consisted of two light bulbs, and one was for the sound guy. I have such fond memories of this little storefront in Detroit’s Case Corridor. If I have the order right, I think it started out as The Crooked Beat, then became the Freezer Theater. That place gave anyone a slot, and the audience would contain kids from Detroit and the suburbs, and people from the neighborhood who just happened to wander in, some of them Vietnam vets who were still having flashbacks.
Around the corner from The Hungry Brain, there was a club in the basement of a vacant Salvation Army thrift store, and a motorcycle gang in the same block. An old-time Hell’s Angels-style motorcycle club. Those guys would wander in from time-to-time, but I don’t think there was ever any conflict. This was in the Delray neighborhood, a chronically neglected area in southwest Detroit. There was the Mystery Lounge on the east side of Detroit, and there were a few bars in Hamtramck — like Hamtramck Pub and Paycheck’s – that were open to having punk bands.
PKM: Yeah, Paycheck’s was just an old after-work bar, right? That is about the best name for a Rust Belt bar. Anyway, I assume there was no trouble bringing your camera in and shooting?
Ewolf: Initially, it was easy. Then the clubs booked by Ritual started turning really shitty about it, either barring cameras or wanting to charge additional money to bring them in. It was petty because I was a fan of the bands; I wasn’t making any money from the photos. If there was a concern about obstructing people’s views, safety, or if they told us not to use a flash, it would have made sense. It felt like they were just being dicks to kids because they could.
PKM: I feel like Detroit has always been a prideful scene, even young fans seem aware of the town’s important music history.
Ewolf: I think it’s true, though sometimes it seems as if people focus on the same handful of acts any time the question is posed. I’m not saying that the frequently mentioned acts aren’t good, just that Detroit’s musical history is so vast, it’s a shame to have a lot of really inspiring figures overlooked because they aren’t part of whatever scene is hot at the moment. I don’t believe I’ve mentioned Doug Fieger (singer/guitarist of the Knack) yet, so let me do it now!
PKM: Did you ever see any of the old stars around at shows, like any of the Stooges, MC5, Alice Cooper, etc.?
Ewolf: I don’t think they were hanging out at the shows I saw. I would think that the typical punk shows would have freaked them out, though [MC5 singer] Rob Tyner did get to be friendly with a band I was fond of – Vertical Pillows. It’s a vague memory, but I think he joined them onstage at one show.
PKM: Did you ever have a run-in with a band that didn’t want you to take their picture?
Ewolf: Minor stuff. Mitch Easter turned me down after a Let’s Active show in Detroit. Eddie Vedder expressed some discomfort with my presence when he was touring with Mike Watt. He apologized afterward, after he talked to Watt and found out I was OK. With a couple of scheduled band sessions, there were people who stand out as being extraordinarily shitty to deal with, like Stephan Jenkins from Third Eye Blind. If he were to happen to read this, he’d probably say something like, “Who the hell is that guy?” and that’s exactly the point. Why be shitty to a little guy who’s just trying to do his job? It’s the people like that who give a hard time to waitstaff and rideshare drivers, thinking they’re in power and the others are worthless.
PKM: So when/how did you start trying to get your photos out there?
Ewolf: My earliest shots were concerts, and I didn’t think of those as being anything other than fan photos. I shot the photos for Angry Red Planet’s Gawker’s Paradise EP, but that still wasn’t like being hired for a job since I was in the band. That cover shot was complex for my first time out though. It was a composite of the interior of an ambulance, and the photo of the people looking in the back windows of Tim Pak’s van. It should have sucked, given my lack of experience. But it didn’t.
I credit the Didjits with getting me off the ground in a bigger way. They were in town – I think they stayed with me after a show – and Rick Sims said, “Hey, you have a studio. Can you shoot some photos for us?” They liked them. Corey Rusk (Touch and Go Records) liked them, and even offered to pay me for them. After those were issued, I started getting calls from all over the place.
I had splurged on a medium-format SLR camera by that time, while most other people were shooting with 35mm cameras. It wasn’t the best financial decision. That camera was HUGE, but I slung it like a 35mm. The magazine editors were impressed with the quality of my shots, compared to what they were used to getting from people. I did work for Raygun, Island Records, Atlantic Records, Guitar Magazine, Alternative Press, Sympathy for the Record Industry, Rainbow Quartz, Blender, Sub Pop, and some others. There’s also a large body of work in the art world, objects I shot for catalogs, and some architectural work.
PKM: Would you say you sometimes went to shows you didn’t really care about for the music, but just wanted to shoot, or heard the band was interesting?
Ewolf: I didn’t tend to show up with my camera just to hang out and take photos. I guess that makes me a bad scene documentarian or something. One reason is that I was always working. I worked during the week as a photographer at the museum, then I picked up freelance jobs doing a variety of photo work during the evenings and weekends.
There were people who expected me to shoot their bands, then give them prints for free. Everything was not about money for me, but still, there was no incentive for me to do that. They wouldn’t even offer to put me on the guest list or buy me a beer. It was just a demand, and I found that a little insulting. If I really liked a band I’d take my camera. Other times, it was nice to go only with the goal of having a good time and listening to music. That became the objective after a while.
PKM: OK, so let’s just name some acts that have used your photos for albums, press pix, etc.
Ewolf: I’ve lost count, honestly. Off the top of my head, fIREHOSE, Mule, Laughing Hyenas, Didjits, Killdozer, XTC, Starlight Desperation, the Paybacks, Dr. Madd Vibe (Angelo Moore from Fishbone), Bantam Rooster. I did a bunch of magazine work as well. I shot Iggy Pop for Juxtapoz. I had a lot of sessions over the years with Twiztid, which a lot of people wouldn’t expect, given that I’m most associated with the punk or garage scene. I liked working with them. They were a lot of fun, and they’re good folks on a personal level.
PKM: Any memory about the Iggy Pop Juxtapoz shoot?
Ewolf: Around that time, I was photographing a lot of art by local artists, much of it in the so-called “lowbrow” movement. The movement centered around C-Pop Gallery, which is now defunct, but had a really good run of several years. I think Iggy had an opening there, and was in town for that.
PKM: Oh yeah, I was at that opening! Like 2003. I remember he was walking around with his little dog. It was a show of musicians’ artwork. I think there were some pieces from Ron Asheton and Niagara in there too. Must’ve missed you.
Ewolf: Whoa! Yeah, that was a cool exhibit. So yeah, Juxtapoz was running a story on him, and I was asked to get a shot for the cover. I didn’t spend much time with him. I set up before he arrived, and we had enough of a conversation to get the job done. I was surprised at how laid-back he was. There are people who haven’t achieved anywhere near as much, and they act like such divas…. And yeah, he carried around that little dog in his arms, one of those breeds you would expect to see in the bag of some Manhattan socialite. I would have expected a cane corso. Having one of those bursting out of a book bag would be cool.
PKM: Ha! So there’s a feeling that the punk subculture, while mostly considering itself progressive and open-minded, was predominantly white and could be seen as unwittingly exclusionary. Would you say that was your experience? Did you ever feel any anxiety at shows, or had flat-out racist experiences?
Ewolf: If you’re just trying to be a person, things can be made awkward, even if the intent isn’t necessarily there. While some people may respond to that statement by saying, “You’re just too sensitive!” I’m justified in countering with, “Well, it could be that you’re fucking stupid.”
Not just in the music scene, in general life, people have a certain set of expectations about others based on what they haven’t experienced. To some it was cool, to some it was jarring to see a non-white person at shows. Not just a non-white person, a Black person. That’s because people have been conditioned to think the cultures are so opposed, to the extent that the activities of each group are totally unknown to the other, like there’s no overlap. So some people were curious if we like, or how we came to like, the music. Others needed some form of verification, then are shocked to find out the Black person knows more about it than they do. Some of the biggest Elvis Costello fans I’ve ever met were other Black dudes. Most people wouldn’t expect that. Even I was caught off guard when the Knack last played Detroit. Someone in the crowd behind me yelled to the band “Play the whole first album!” I turned around, and saw a giant Black guy, smiling!
Not just in the music scene, in general life, people have a certain set of expectations about others based on what they haven’t experienced. To some it was cool, to some it was jarring to see a non-white person at shows. Not just a non-white person, a Black person.
The worst of times occurred at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor [on University of Michigan campus]. Detroit ska band, Gangster Fun, headlined the show. Before the show, some of the band repainted the dressing room, which had graffiti and signatures from bands going back years, including one from Kurt Cobain. It was rather brilliant, but it infuriated the club people, of course. Although John Bunkley was in the band, he had no part in the painting, no part, whatsoever! The people from the club mostly singled him out though, wanting to throw paint on his car. They threatened to beat him up, then chased him through the streets and suddenly the reason shifted to “Catch that n*****, he stole my wallet!” to justify why they were chasing him, and to get uninvolved people to stop him. Fortunately, Bunkley outran all of them. One guy also chased John Ferry, who is white, but it wasn’t that kind of dynamic. There were anywhere from six to ten people after Bunkley.
PKM: Mick Collins (Gories, Dirtbombs) was around that scene for a long time, and you were in the Dirtbombs with him for a bit. Did you ever have any conversations with him about this subject, of racial troubles in the scene?
Ewolf: We never talked about anything specific that I recall. I think we simply understood each other – experiences in common, similarities in our families, and how we grew up. Our reflections were more about the world rather than the scene at that time.
I remember once with the Dirtbombs, driving to Cleveland and running out of gas on a stretch of interstate in the middle of nowhere. I had to hike down an embankment and walk to a house to beg for a gas can. The woman in the house turned out to be very kind, and drove me to a gas station. Later, we stopped to fill up at a station that, again, was in a rural area. Mick and I talked later about how on edge the clerk looked when we walked in. While we were picking out snacks, a Lesley Gore song came on the station’s radio. Mick and I started singing along and dancing a little bit. That seemed to put the clerk at ease. It wasn’t a conscious act by us. We were in the moment, and it was effective, you could say. Both experiences worked out well, and people might interpret it as proof that there’s no bigotry anywhere, ever. What’s harder to convey is the feeling that you have to be on guard at all times, regardless of how it may turn out.
PKM: You mentioned skinhead trouble in the Detroit scene back then…
Ewolf: There were one or two notorious skinhead cliques, and perhaps some others that were borderline. I don’t think they were around in the first wave of punk in Detroit; I never heard of them if they were. By the mid-80s, they were definitely there. Strangely, I never had a run in with them. I had a couple look me up and down and sniff a little bit, but I was never jumped. It may have been because I was mostly quiet, then other times because I was in the right company. I was playing with Angry Red Planet at that time. It wouldn’t have gone over well for them to fight with me since the band was fairly popular, and I think some of them were intimidated by (guitarist/singer) Tim Pak. Tim is a sweet person but he was sizable enough that they’d have to consider their chances in a fight with him, and they were a bunch who didn’t like to fight when the match was more even. If they could sucker punch you or gang up, they were all in. I’m quite sure I knew and talked to some skinheads who were less obvious about their activities. I guess I became that fabled “one black friend” because I was in a band people liked.
I heard stories about their activities at shows, sometimes targeting the few black people who were around, but the only fights I saw involved scraps with other white guys. Decent people didn’t want that shit around, and it would become confrontational.
PKM: I know St. Andrews was/is a popular downtown Detroit venue for local and national indie bands, and had DJs in the basement; and it was also right nearby some predominantly African-American dance clubs. Most friends I know from Detroit seemed to take a sort of pride that these cultures co-existed. Because at that time, latter ‘90s, downtown Detroit was still pretty dead, there weren’t a bunch of places to see bands around town, so you sort of had to deal with this mix of people gathering around like four blocks of clubs.
Ewolf: There were some real bright spots in Detroit during the ‘80s and ‘90s. It wasn’t just different skin tones coming together, there were mixtures of straight and gay scenes, too. I won’t claim to have been involved in it all. I knew it was there, though.
PKM: So, it’s a wide subject, but what do you think of this summer’s ongoing protests, and your hope for any concrete change?
Ewolf: (l-o-n-g sigh) I was impressed to see people turning out in such numbers, and that the protests were, largely, orderly efforts, around here anyway. Of course, I’m referring to the protests against unnecessary deaths of people at the hands of police, not the taking up of arms over having to wear a covering over your mouth. At the same time, I’m dismayed over what led to protests, and that we have people who, if not outright bigots, are indifferent to the killing of black people. They view it as self-determination, as if it’s earned. I can only hope that this latest showing of bigotry across the country is the swan song of racism.
PKM: You also shot posed pictures of bands. Would you say you prefer taking photos like that to live shots?
Ewolf: I developed an allergic reaction to people landing on my head at shows. Early on, I loved shooting shows because I loved being at shows. Things started to shift for me as photography was made easier for people who were not photographers. I’m not suggesting that those people should be denied the opportunity, just that there was less need for me to shoot at shows because camera devices became ubiquitous, then because the “customers” became less discerning. Every photo was the same to them. I wasn’t concerned about losing out on sales, I just hated to see bad photos out there. I was actually encouraging of other photographers and non-photographers. People could always talk to me about techniques and gear and, when I had a big enough budget, I even hired some as assistants to give them an opportunity to learn.
Studio and location photos represented more creativity to me. I have a busy mind, so I pushed myself to do something different every time…. I wasn’t trying to have my shots all look like the cover of Vanity Fair. In fact, I hated the idea of using stylists and makeup artists. I wanted to be competent. Good results couldn’t be accidents.
I guess my distinction between shooting concerts and more controlled photography was summed up in a conversation I had with one assistant. He was going on about how great were these concert shots he saw. I said, “What did the photographer actually do? Someone else did the lighting. The band dressed themselves and they moved on their own, it wasn’t like he was directing them. So, what did he do?”
PKM: I remember the day we came to Detroit to start recording with Jim Diamond in fall, 1999, we were driving on a fairly big, busy, downtown road, and look over, and there’s this lady just taking a dump right on the sidewalk. And we thought, “Yup, we chose the right place to record this album.”
Ewolf: I remember that! It was on Cass, not too far from the studio. We were looking for a street to get some band shots, and it seemed like the woman saw us, and decided to squat right when we looked at her! She just pulled down her shorts and did it. I think she was yelling something, but everyone’s laughs drowned her out. I was kind of embarrassed, thinking it wasn’t a nice welcome for our out of town guests.
PKM: It was perfect. You shot some pix of us in Jim’s studio too. Did you shoot many bands there?
Ewolf: I shot the Dirtbombs there, when I was in the band and after I was out of the band. Another time, I took photos of the Romantics while they were shooting a video segment connected to the release of their 61/49 album. Clem Burke was with them, which was cool. I don’t think those were ever used for anything, though.
PKM: So by the end of the ‘90s, did you feel there was a kind of scene blowing up in Detroit beyond just the usual local band activity? With the White Stripes, Electric Six, Detroit Cobras, and Clone Defects getting some attention?
Ewolf: Yeah, there was definitely a period in which Detroit was receiving a lot of attention from labels and various media. I don’t know why some bands didn’t get even bigger than they did. Maybe they didn’t have the right haircuts.
PKM: What were some of your favorites of that time, the late ‘90s/early 2000s?
Ewolf: If there was one record I had to choose as my favorite from that era, I’d go with the first EP, Slumber Party Highs, from the Fletcher Pratt. I thought it was perfect! I dig the songs, and I think the production was perfectly suited for what they were doing. I don’t think the record got its due. I’m also a big fan of The Paybacks’ Knock Loud and the Gore Gore Girls first LP. All of those have great dynamics, a good, rambunctious energy, and still have a wonderful melodic quality. Of course I liked the Dirtbombs, not only because I played in the band.
Detroit Grand Pubahs were not part of the garage scene, but their Funk All Y’all is another album I really liked. And I liked The Atomic Fireballs’ Torch This Place. The songs, that is. I thought the production was much too loud for the songs. Welcome to my unpopular opinions.
I wasn’t trying to have my shots all look like the cover of Vanity Fair. In fact, I hated the idea of using stylists and makeup artists. I wanted to be competent. Good results couldn’t be accidents.
PKM: Have you ever shot bands outside of Detroit?
Ewolf: There was a period in which I was traveling to Chicago regularly, shooting a bunch of bands for Touch and Go Records…. Most of my work was done in Detroit though. Magazines or labels would put me together with bands that had a stop here during a tour.
PKM: Was there a point where you kind of dropped out of shooting bands, or needed a break?
Ewolf: Things change. If I don’t feel excited about the music I’m hearing or if I don’t feel anchored to a scene, there’s less incentive to be out there shooting. Sometimes, people don’t want to pay for the service. I tried to never be unaffordable, and there are still people who act as if I need to build my portfolio, that they’re doing me a favor in letting me shoot them. “It’ll look good in your portfolio!” I’d say, “I’m established! It’ll look good in your portfolio if I shoot you!”
PKM: Tell me about your self-portraits, and what you were going for with them.
Ewolf: I haven’t done those in quite some time, but they were fun for a while. I had a couple of different series. One was weird in that I had uncanny luck in stumbling upon building fires. As a joke, I started photographing myself with the fires in the background, on occasion with a cigarette lighter in my hand. I had so many people begin to question if I was responsible for the fires (I have rock-solid alibis). On my way home one day, I saw smoke in the distance, so I followed it to the source to take another self-portrait. There was a wind storm that day, and a power line had snapped and caused a fire in the garage behind a house. The wind whipped up the fire and it spread to other garages, then the houses. I saw people running from their burning houses; there wasn’t anything they could do but watch them burn. By the time I left, half the block had burned. Those self-portraits weren’t funny after seeing that, so I stopped.
The other series was a parody of how people use social media. I had a bunch of self-portraits in which I never showed my face. I would mostly have my back to the camera, other times having my face obscured by something. I found it interesting that this would really piss off some people, as if I had a requirement to act like everyone else. “Selfie culture” is so much worse now than it was then. It really puts me off, people being so self-obsessed. I’m not that vain.
PKM: What have you been up to lately?
Ewolf: I still have my job at the museum. It may seem like the ultimate in weird, fussy secretiveness, but I have always tried to avoid mixing that work with my other work. I’ve never promoted my music or art photography using my museum background, and vice-versa. When people want to combine them, it makes me uncomfortable. There were people who knew of both, and wanted to call me Ewolf in the museum. I put a stop to that because, you know, sometimes those things wind up in the wrong hands, get misrepresented in some way, and I wouldn’t want someone thinking I wasn’t in any way qualified to perform a task because I was this “wild” punk rock guy. I’ve gone to the homes of people whose doorbell is worth more than my entire house. They have to feel comfortable with me being there, along with my handling their art.
I think they can stand on their own as careers or distinct bodies of work because they’re very different. Both have benefitted from the experiences in the other areas. One of my old bosses said I’m the most creative photographer the department has ever had, and that was incredibly flattering – to the point that I didn’t feel I deserved such a compliment. That was the punk rock aspect coming in. And then, the discipline of the museum made me a better technician elsewhere.
PKM: How has all this coronavirus weirdness affected you and your work?
Ewolf: I wasn’t terribly outgoing before; now, I’m really a hermit. My circle was becoming smaller anyway because I don’t go to shows as often as I once did. I haven’t been shooting bands lately, so it’s not like I’m losing business. I do miss some of it. My personal work is more of a solitary pursuit, too, so people aren’t needed in order for me to accomplish it. Well, sort of. There’s some evidence of human existence in the photos, but people don’t have to be present when the photos are taken.